Special Investigations Unit breaks drug bust records

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KSPR) – The Springfield Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) broke more than half a dozen records in 2015 and 2016, including several major drug busts.

The Springfield Police Department’s Public Affairs Officer Lisa Cox said the group is one that many people around town aren’t aware of because the officer’s identities are kept secret.

“It’s not the officer that pulls them over for speeding or the officer in uniform at a public event, most of their work is covert,” said Cox. “They're taking care of getting really dangerous criminals off the street, criminals that are involved in huge drug conspiracies.”

One of the drug conspiracy investigations during this time frame involved suspects from out of town who were bringing heroin into Springfield for distribution. This investigation was titled “Southside Hustle.” The “Southside Hustle” investigation led to various federal indictments, with the two main targets being sentenced to 32 years and nearly 20 years respectively.

The second major drug conspiracy investigation was called “Operation Picket Fence.” This task focused on a gang member with ties to a Mexican cartel who was distributing methamphetamine in Springfield. By the end of the investigation, six targets were sentenced in federal court to a total of 1,017 months, or almost 85 years.

So what makes this unit different?

Lisa Cox said the unit focuses on long-term drug investigations, like “Southside Hustle” and “Operation Picket Fence.”

“That’s the reason we used to have so many meth labs in town,” said Cox. “Now, so much is coming across the border, cheaper, purer and that’s what these officers try to crack down on.”

Cox said meth labs in the Springfield area are virtually non-existent, the department used to see hundreds per year and now they see less than a dozen. Cox also noted drug investigations is just one of the many areas the unit specializes in, they also work in gang and prostitution investigations.

It’s also a smaller unit than usual, made up of only eight people; six officers, the unit’s corporal and the unit’s sergeant.

“They are a pretty small unit but it is amazing what they have accomplished over the years.”

One final characteristic that sets this unit apart is the schedule.

“Depending on what’s going on in their investigation, they may be called to a situation in the middle of the night or they may have a search warrant at a certain time of day, so their family’s lives are even impacted by this type of work they do,” Lisa Cox said. “Sometimes they are away from their families several nights a week working on targeting a specific suspect to get them behind bars.”

KSPR News asked what this means for 2017 when it comes to drugs on the streets of Springfield.

“It’s still early in the year but the numbers are anticipated to continue skyrocketing, the last few years have just been amazing and a lot of it has to do with these large investigations,” said Cox. “The numbers and quantities of heroin and meth these officers are seizing is mind-blowing; we used to be counting in grams and now we are counting in pounds.”

During 2015 and 2016, the SIU broke the following records:
• Felony arrest: 578 (362 arrests in 2016; previous record was 314 in a year)
• Firearms seized: 197 (96 seized in 2015, 101 seized in 2016; previous record was 84 in a year)
• Cases initiated: 561 (362 initiated in 2016; previous record was 314 in a year)
• Recovered stolen vehicles: 62 (44 vehicles recovered in 2016; previous record was 18 in a year)
• Cocaine seized: 1.16 pounds (1.16 pounds seized in 2016; previous record was 0.39 pounds in a year)
• Heroin seized: 1.3 pounds (previous record was 0.63 pounds in a year)

Lisa Cox said the department didn’t want the Special Investigations Unit’s progress to go unnoticed just because they are undercover.

”We appreciate their hard work and even though they aren’t in the spotlight they are making a lot of sacrifices for the safety of the community.”

The unit's sergeant, corporal and six officers each received the SPD Command Commendation for their work in the SIU. A Command Commendation is a department award “which is presented to department personnel who distinguish themselves by a single act or series of actions that impact the community in a positive manner, or significantly improve the ability of the department to fulfill its mission.”